The bass guitar, more than any other instrument, is at its best when tightly aligned with the drums. Together, the bassist and drummer develop the powerful grooves that drive the song by constantly listening and reacting to each other. Here are ten classic bass-and-drum combinations (sorted alphabetically by the bass player’s last name) that have enhanced a multitude of songs.
Check out Chapter 20, Audio Track 117 to hear brief bass and drummer groove examples in the styles of these masters. However, to get a sense of truly great bass grooves, you need to listen to the original recordings. Go directly to the source and get inspired by the same musicians who inspire me.
Bootsy Collins and Jab’o Starks
Bootsy Collins and Jab’o Starks are stellar as James Brown’s rhythm section of 1970. Their work is one of the earliest examples of the complex interplay between bass and drums. Check out James Brown’s recordings “Sex Machine” and “Super Bad” to hear their funky grooves.
Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson Jr.
From the mid-1960s through the early ’70s, Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson Jr. recorded hits for a number of artists as members of the house band for the Stax/Volts record label. Stax was one of the ultimate R & B/Soul record labels, featuring artists Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and many more. Listen to “Soul Man” to hear their soulful R & B/Soul grooves.
James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin
James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin combined to form the ultimate rhythm section for the Motown record label throughout the 1960s. Their playing can be heard on hits such as “I Was Made to Love Her” and “Going to a Go-Go.”
John Paul Jones and John Bonham
John Paul Jones and John Bonham are best known for their work in the band Led Zeppelin. Songs such as “The Lemon Song” and “Ramble On” exemplify their brilliant work from 1968 through 1980.
Joe Osborn and Hal Blaine
Joe Osborn and Hal Blaine were members of an elite assortment of session players who recorded a staggering number of hits during the “California Rock Explosion” of the ’60s (when an unusually large number of hits were recorded by bands in California).
As part of the “Wrecking Crew,” Osborn and Blaine laid down solid grooves for The 5th Dimension, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas and The Papas, The Monkees, and many more. Listen to “Vehicle” and “California Dreaming” for great examples of their diversity.
Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine
Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine were both members of the pioneering jazz-rock-fusion group Weather Report during the high point of the band’s popularity in the late 1970s. Their complex interplay of bass and drums can be found in such tunes as “Birdland” and “Teen Town” (the live recordings). Erskine went on to play with Jaco’s big band Word of Mouth. To call these two masters dynamic is truly an understatement.
George Porter Jr. and Zig Modeliste
The syncopated and rubbery style of George Porter Jr. and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste represents New Orleans funk at its very finest. As members of The Meters from the late 1960s to the late ’70s, Porter and Modeliste laid down some of the most memorable grooves in history in such tunes as “Cissy Strut” and “Funky Miracle.”
Francis Rocco Prestia and David Garibaldi
The soul funk of the Oakland-based band Tower of Power was at its peak throughout the 1970s with the combination of Francis Rocco Prestia and David Garibaldi. Their solid sixteenth-note grooves can be heard on “Soul Vaccination” and “What Is Hip,” displaying some of the best funk you’ll ever hear.
Chuck Rainey and Bernard Purdie
The power and nuances of Chuck Rainey’s and Bernard Purdie’s playing drove some of the best music recorded in New York in the mid-1960s and ’70s. This duo laid down the grooves for a diverse list of artists (from Aretha Franklin to Steely Dan). The Rainey-Purdie combination shines on tunes like “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” and “Home at Last.”
Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar
Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar are widely considered the premier bass-drum combination of reggae. Besides playing on dozens of records together, both were members of Peter Tosh’s band in the late 1970s. Shakespeare and Dunbar played some of the most memorable reggae grooves in history on such tunes as “Mama Africa” and “Whatcha Gonna Do.”